Though its advertising would say otherwise, “The Grey” is not another Liam Neeson kills everybody movie, even if that has become his forte over the past five years. Instead, “The Grey” is an attempt at an introspective, philosophical survival film, a target it misses by a close margin.
Neeson stars at John Ottway, a guard who protects Alaskan oil workers from wolves that occasionally wander into the worksites. One day, Neeson and a number of workers board a plane to travel to a new northern site. The plane crashes in the middle of nowhere, killing all but seven of the passengers in a large open space covered in snow and constantly hit with high winds. Soon afterwards, the wolves begin to arrive, and Neeson becomes the leader of the remaining seven as they attempt to survive.
The plane crash itself is spectacularly shot, as it never shows the outside of the plane. Instead, the camera stays on the men inside as they feel the initial turbulence, then the terror as the plane goes down. It is a far better cinematic effect than anything done in a Michael Bay movie, and is the first sign of the dramatic tension that will take over for the rest of the movie.
Much of the rest of the production design is stellar as well, especially the sounds – wolf howls break the eerie silence, wind sweeps through trees with a roar and composer Marc Streitenfeld’s score is mostly perfect, due to its repeated motifs played solely on strings and pianos, which reinforce the meditative nature of the film.
Unfortunately, “The Grey” also forces conflict between the characters for virtually no reason other than adding length to the movie, which stretches on for two hours. Attempts at character development occasionally work, and a discussion of faith and existence comes off as very real, but it stops the film in its tracks. A nearly 10 minute discussion about the existence of God is something I’m usually up for, but not when it destroys the pace of a thriller.
The worst part of “The Grey,” however, is the wolves. They are entirely computer generated and never look real, especially up close. From afar, they appear to be generic black and grey blurs running towards a character. Up close, they are so obviously animated that it takes away from any sort of feelings of fear the audience is meant to feel.
Neeson gives an excellent performance, as do the other survivors. On the whole, they are developed fairly well, even if some of that comes from the forced conflict.
“The Grey” never really hits on any sort of emotional level though, so the attempted poignant moments don’t really matter. “The Grey” has some wonderful ideas, but it never made me care that much about the characters. As a survival movie, it’s nearly perfect, but as anything more, “The Grey” tries and fails. It is a shame, as there is a great movie to be made based on this idea.
This is not it.